A powerful explosion hit a procession of Shia Muslims in central Pakistan on Thursday, wounding at least 30 people, witnesses and a Shia leader said. There were unconfirmed reports of deaths among the victims.
Videos circulating on social media showed police and ambulances rushing toward the site of the bombing. Several wounded people were seen waiting for help along a road in the deeply conservative city of Bahawalnagar in the eastern Punjab province where the attack took place.
A Shia leader, Khawar Shafqat, confirmed the bombing in a statement but provided no further details.
No government official or police officials were available for comment, as authorities had suspended mobile phone service across the country a day ago ahead of the Ashoura festival.
The annual commemoration mourns the 7th century death of Prophet Muhammad's grandson Hussein, one of Shia Islam's most beloved saints.
For Shias, the remembrance of Hussein is an emotional event that sees many believers weep over his death at the Battle of Karbala in present-day Iraq. During the Ashura processions, which are held across the world, many participants beat their backs with chains, flagellating themselves in a symbolic expression of regret for not being able to help Hussein before his martyrdom.
According to Shafqat, the explosion took place when a procession of Shia Muslims was passing through a congested neighborhood of Muhajir Colony. He condemned the attack and asked government to further step up security at processions which were being taken out in other parts of the country as well.
Shias are a minority in predominant Sunni Muslim Pakistan, where extremist Sunni Muslims view them as apostates deserving of death.